The five-year prison sentence for fraud handed down in 2020 against the son of Angola’s former president, José Eduardo dos Santos, was overturned and deemed “unconstitutional”, the Constitutional Court said in a decision published on Thursday 4 april.

The previous decision concerning José Filomeno dos Santos, 46, violates “the principles of legality, adversarial proceedings, fair and coherent judgment as well as the rights of the defense”, estimated the country’s highest court in a decision consulted by the Agence France-Presse (AFP). It was not immediately clear whether José Filomeno dos Santos, known as “Zenu,” who is currently serving his sentence under house arrest, will be declared free or if a new trial will have to take place.

Head of the Angolan sovereign fund between 2013 and 2018, he was accused with three co-defendants of having illegally transferred $500 million from the Central Bank to the London account of a Credit Suisse agency, as part of a fraud which could have embezzled up to $1.5 billion. Sentenced in 2020 to five years in prison, he was the first figure from the old regime sanctioned for corruption.

The dos Santos family denounces “persecution”

The annulment of his conviction represents a victory for the clan of former President José Eduardo dos Santos (died in 2022), who ruled unchallenged for thirty-eight years the former Portuguese colony in southern Africa, rich in hydrocarbons. The dos Santos family regularly denounces “persecution” and a politically motivated campaign directed against them by the current president, Joao Lourenço.

In power since 2017, the latter dismissed in the name of the fight against corruption all those close to him that his predecessor had placed at the head of institutions, public companies and the country’s security apparatus.

The Constitutional Court found in its decision that the judges during the trial had not taken into account elements provided by the defense and in particular a letter written by former president José Eduardo dos Santos. She also noted discrepancies between the reasons for conviction and the charges initially retained.

For her part, dos Santos’ eldest daughter, Isabel, who headed the state oil company Sonangol, is accused of embezzling billions of dollars from state-owned companies. Nicknamed the “Princess” and declared the richest woman in Africa by Forbes magazine, she is the target of several surveys.